What Does Industrial Maintenance Mean?
Industrial maintenance involves the use of various maintenance systems designed to reduce equipment downtime, increase asset lifespans, maintain quality control, and uphold safety standards. The industrial settings that practice this category of maintenance include food processing plants, manufacturing facilities, electricity plants, and more.
Modern industrial facilities are under intense pressure to meet availability, productivity, and quality demands without delay. According to Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, 98 percent of manufacturing organizations report that a single hour of downtime costs more than $100,000, and one-third report costs more than $1 million.
For this reason, savvy operational managers prioritize issuing ongoing training for maintenance technicians, tracking asset history with Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS), and utilizing a combination of advanced maintenance strategies to meet their goals. Industrial maintenance aims to:
- Increase uptime, asset availability, and productivity.
- Decrease downtime, reduce breakdowns, and inefficiencies.
- Maintain predictability of maintenance expenses.
- Keep all equipment in peak working condition.
These goals are achieved by a) implementing a global maintenance strategy for the entire facility and b) using the best maintenance strategy for each asset.
Industrial Maintenance Strategies
Predictive maintenance (PdM) and condition-based maintenance (CBM), both forms of preventive maintenance (PM), are the most effective maintenance strategies for critical equipment in industrial settings. Additionally, many industrial maintenance teams use reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) as a systematic framework to optimize individual maintenance policies for each physical asset under their care.
According to Jones Lang LaSalle’s Determining the Economic Value of Preventive Maintenance, standard PM alone can yield a 545 percent return-on-investment (ROI):
“Consider, however, the cost of just one piece of equipment: a chiller. The average size of the company’s chillers was 350 tons. At $1,000 per ton, chillers would cost an average of $350,000 to replace. Maintaining the chiller costs $5,500 per year, and proper maintenance adds years to the equipment’s life, avoiding the extremely expensive capital outlay needed to replace it. The longer the capital expense can be delayed, the higher the ROI.”
Alternatively, both CBM and PdM allow industrial maintenance teams to optimize maintenance costs even more. Advanced sensor technology measures equipment vibration, temperature, and ultrasounds to anticipate potential breakdowns with a higher level of precision than manufacturer’s guidelines alone. However, PdM takes the trophy when it comes to delivering the highest ROI.
Algorithmic software analyzes sensor data to find the sweet spot between cost-efficient equipment servicing, breakdown prevention, and asset life-cycle extension. According to Deloitte, industrial maintenance teams utilizing advanced PdM technologies can achieve a 70 percent reduction of breakdowns and a 25 percent savings on maintenance costs. With that said, reactive maintenance will always be ideal for inexpensive, non-critical, and easy-to-replace assets.
What Do Industrial Maintenance Workers Do?
These types of workers are responsible for the maintenance of all equipment at a given facility. They often work in teams and commonly do a mix of the following:
- Installation of new equipment.
- Repair or replacement of faulty assets.
- Assessment of the state and performance of equipment.
- Proactive maintenance work.
For these two roles, typically, you need either a one-year certification or a two-year associate’s degree.
Maintenance managers may have a bachelor’s degree or undergone similar training as maintenance mechanics or technicians. Either way, they must have at least a few years of maintenance experience. They are responsible for creating and implementing a global maintenance strategy for a facility and planning the team’s work and making sure that all necessary inventory is on hand.
A CMMS is an indispensable tools for maintenance managers, who use it to plan, schedule and prioritize maintenance tasks; to create work orders and assign them to maintenance personnel; and to make sure their team has the necessary inventory on hand.
Examples of Industrial Maintenance Tasks
Examples of specific industrial maintenance tasks include:
- Changing lubricants on equipment with rotating parts.
- Detecting and fixing issues in hydraulic or pneumatic systems.
- Doing maintenance work on boilers, heat exchangers, and tanks.
- Assessing complex issues in the case of a breakdown and repairing equipment to minimize downtime.
- Performing mechanical and electrical repairs.
- Troubleshooting equipment that doesn’t perform as expected.
- Inspecting equipment for signs of wear and tear.
- Escalating equipment issues to maintenance supervisors.
- Scheduling future maintenance tasks.
- Ordering inventory—spare parts, tools, and materials—for future maintenance work.
Overall, industrial maintenance tasks are varied, complex, and require a high level of adaptability. Let’s look at additional important skills maintenance workers should have.
Key Skills for Maintenance Personnel
Regardless of the specific equipment being serviced, industrial maintenance workers must possess several crucial skills, including:
- Problem-Solving: Maintenance work is all about identifying and fixing issues. Maintenance employees must be able to identify the best operational solution in the shortest possible time. They should also perform well under pressure. Downtime can be incredibly stressful!
- Precision and Attention to Detail: Technicians should possess a keen eye for detail. This trait is crucial when installing, repairing, and maintaining heavy machinery. An eye for detail is needed to follow manufacturers’ guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) with a high level of precision.
- Adaptability and Versatility: Different pieces of equipment require different maintenance strategies. Maintenance workers must be able to quickly adapt from one SOP to the next. Additionally, SOPs and best practices often change over time. Thus, workers must be open to continually improving their skills and knowledge.
- Communication Skills: Most industrial maintenance work is done within a team setting. Strong communication skills are therefore essential for maintenance personnel. A good CMMS smartphone app with chat functionality can streamline communication within the team. In case of emergency maintenance, for example, it can help maintenance technicians coordinate their efforts without information falling through the cracks.
- Physical Strength: Finally, maintenance work is sometimes physically demanding. Technicians may engage in activities that require endurance, stamina, and strength. Common physically demanding maintenance tasks include carrying and assembling heavy machine parts, climbing tall ladders, and working in unusually hot or cold temperatures.
Organizations That Require Industrial Maintenance
Any company that owns heavy machinery needs industrial maintenance. Organizations in the following sectors typically require industrial maintenance:
- Manufacturing: Electronics factories, furniture manufacturers, paint suppliers, or any other organization producing goods for consumers or businesses.
- Food Processing: Plants preparing food and beverages.
- Construction: Companies constructing infrastructure or buildings, such as offices, housing, malls, hotels, hospitals, and more.
- Automobile: Auto parts manufacturers or assembly plants.
- Aviation: Aircraft manufacturers or assembly plants.
- Electricity production: Fossil-fuel or hydroelectric power stations, nuclear power plants, wind turbines.
Industrial facilities always have maintenance staff on board, and they typically work in teams. Additionally, companies will sometimes hire contractors for specific complex maintenance tasks.
Types of Industrial Maintenance Workers
In job ads, you can see a variety of industrial maintenance positions. However, in many cases there’s overlap between responsibilities.
The most common types of industrial maintenance workers include:
- Industrial Maintenance Mechanics: Maintenance mechanics perform maintenance works on machines, including installation and repair.
- Industrial Maintenance Technicians: The maintenance technician’s role is similar to the one of a mechanic. It can include maintaining diverse assets and isn’t limited to machines.
- Industrial Electricians: Industrial electricians are responsible for installing and maintaining electrical systems.
- Industrial Maintenance Managers: The industrial maintenance manager’s role is key for developing and implementing a maintenance strategy for the entire organization. Maintenance managers plan and coordinate the work of the maintenance team, make changes in assets’ maintenance programs, and make sure that the maintenance department has sufficient resources to do its job.
You may be wondering if an industrial maintenance mechanic is the same as an industrial maintenance technician. In short, the answer is no.
What Is the Difference Between a Maintenance Mechanic and a Maintenance Technician?
The responsibilities and skills involved in the two roles are slightly different, despite partial overlap. Both maintenance mechanics and technicians aim to achieve uninterrupted uptime and optimal performance. Maintenance technicians, however, work with a wide variety of equipment, while maintenance mechanics only work with machinery.
Mechanics are therefore more specialized than technicians. They focus uniquely on the installation, repair, and maintenance of machines. Technicians may also fix piping, roofing, HVAC units, and more. In the context of industrial maintenance, however, both terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
Industrial Maintenance Training
How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Industrial Maintenance?
Most associate’s degree programs in industrial maintenance take two years to complete. Programs are available at different colleges across the United States. Institutions that have reputable industrial maintenance programs are:
- Kent State University
- Northern Michigan University (NMU)
- Illinois Central College (ICC)
- Elizabethtown Community & Technical College (ECTC)
- Metropolitan Community College (MCC)
Alternatively, aspiring maintenance technicians can choose to go the certification route. Certification programs are shorter and usually take one year to complete. The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP) has a certification program for:
- Certified Maintenance and Reliability Technicians (CMRTs), or
- Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (CMRPs)
Bachelor’s degrees in industrial maintenance aren’t commonly available. Students can sometimes transfer from a two-year associate’s degree to a related field to obtain a bachelor’s degree. This usually gives them access to a career in maintenance management.
Can You Get an Industrial Maintenance Degree Online?
Some organizations offer online courses in the field of industrial maintenance, such as TPC Training or 360 Training. The Penn Foster College offers a two-year online associate degree in Industrial Electronics and Electrical Maintenance Degree, while Bevill State Community College has an Industrial Maintenance Technician Online Refresher Training.
How Dangerous Is Industrial Maintenance?
Industrial maintenance workers must follow safety procedures and use protective gear, such as hardhats, hearing protectors, and safety glasses.
Even when maintenance staff follows all necessary safety precautions, working with heavy machinery has its risks. Unfortunately, this makes industrial maintenance one of the riskiest professions in the United States. According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, maintenance workers are 8 to 10 times more at risk of developing an occupational disease compared to the general population. The preventive maintenance of critical equipment is one of the ways to improve workplace safety for both machine operators and maintenance personnel.
There is an abundance of high-quality industrial maintenance resources online, such as:
- Efficient Plant: Efficient Plant is a magazine on industrial maintenance, with topics such as reliability, automation, safety, analysis, and more.
- Manufacturing.net: A website for the most up-to-date information in the field of manufacturing.
- MaintenanceWorld: For maintenance managers looking for information on the latest trends in maintenance, MaintenanceWorld is one of the best online resources.
- Electrical Construction & Maintenance: EC&M is an authority on electric systems products, maintenance, and technologies.
- Reliable Plant: Reliable Plant features detailed, informative articles on plant maintenance, lubrication, safety, lean manufacturing, and other topics.
Industrial maintenance is a dynamic, rapidly evolving field. Sensors, programmable logic controllers, data analytics tools, and CMMS are becoming mainstream as more industrial facilities shift toward predictive maintenance. One of the best ways for industrial facilities to meet the market’s increasing demands for performance, quality, and reliability is to invest in developing optimized maintenance strategies for their most critical assets.